The influential child: It is not all up to the parents

Psychological research has been showing for decades that parental beliefs and attitudes towards gender have an enormous impact on the way they treat their children. Children constantly receive gender-differentiating messages from society as a whole, and also from parents. For example, even when there are no differences between boys and girls in grades or interest in science, parents still tend to treat them differently: fathers of boys use more cognitively demanding speech during a physics task, parents of boys are more likely to believe their child is interested in science, and parents of girls are more likely to believe that science is difficult for their child (Tenenbaum & Leaper, 2003). Furthermore, sons tend to describe both their parents as more permissive, possibly reflecting that parents are more protective of daughters (McKinney & Renk, 2008). In addition, studies show that boys tend to receive more harsh parenting in comparison with girls, less parental sympathy and empathic concern and more corporal punishment (Jenkins, Rasbash, & O'Connor, 2003; Lytton & Romney, 1991).


There is not, and there cannot be, a universally ideal parenting style. Regardless of the fact that the same style of parenting can have a different effect in different cultures, children are different. It is therefore fairly obvious that they would require different parenting approaches. Raising the awareness of parents to the way their children can trigger certain behaviors in them can help them control their reactions. Video feedback interventions can help with that, by helping parents notice how they react to their child. Consequently, they may be able to adjust their parenting in a way that will be more suitable to their child. Experts need to understand that even if parents behave according to a certain cultural ideal, it does not mean that they are behaving in a way that is ideal to their unique child. Advice givers should come to the same understanding – you need to have the whole unique picture of the parent and the child to give proper advice. This means that whenever parents seek help for something that involves parenting it might be preferable to go to treatments that include the child as well.

The fact that children affect parenting, taken together with other findings showing that different children respond differently to the same parenting style, stress the importance of tailor-made/personalized parenting. Similar to the creation of personalized medicine which followed the realization that we are all born different, personalized parenting should be advocated and generalized self-help parenting books should be read with a grain of salt.



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